Editor’s Note: “The Economic Development Side” originally appears in the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce’s weekly member e-newsletter. It is written by Rhonda Dishner, the Economic Development Alliance’s executive assistant.


Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge brought one of her annual listening tours to Jefferson County on March 7.


Now in the fourth year, these “roundtable” events are scheduled in all of the state’s 75 counties. They give community and business leaders at each stop the opportunity to ask questions or speak directly with a state government official about individual or collective issues.


Or as General Rutledge remarked in opening the discussions here, “I want to hear from you all about what’s going on in Jefferson County.” She ventured that some pressing concerns likely were issues she’d heard about elsewhere in the state, like the opioid epidemic or the multitude of scams.


She also noted that, as attorney general, she’s the state’s chief consumer advocate, was taking notes that day, and would use the collected information in her work to protect Arkansas citizens. Some information also could be shared with other state officials, including Gov. Hutchinson, as well as federal officials, she said.


Last week’s listening session in Pine Bluff, held at the Economic Development Alliance, brought together about 25 invited participants representing local governments, small pharmacies, manufacturing industries, insurance agencies, school districts, and small business owners.


Once the floor was opened for comments, almost everyone who spoke during the hour-long meeting, ironically, did so about the same matter, although from vastly different perspectives. That single, multi-faceted topic? Drugs.


Illegal drugs are destructive. That subject brought a request for additional funding so law enforcement can identify, arrest and prosecute the growing number of drug-related offenders. Employers said they have hiring problems because a large percentage of potential workers can’t pass drug testing. The school administrators voiced their daily challenge of educating students whose families have been devastated and torn apart by illicit drugs.


Prescription medications, on the other hand, can be lifesaving. But independent pharmacists in the room said they may not be able to continue in business if the low reimbursement rates they receive for filling prescriptions aren’t addressed—immediately.


As the meeting concluded, attendees expressed appreciation for the chance to have their voices heard. The AG distributed her business card for those who wanted to furnish more information or suggest possible solutions to the described conundrum. And she took notes.